Updated: Jan 1
In his left hand was an axe, carved with ornate details on its stone face, yet firmly grasped in his right hand was a severed head.
Aggressively, his eyes locked on to the Commander of the Armies of the North and General of the Felix Legions, Maximus Decimius Meridius. “Ihr seid verfluchte Hunde” echoed through the forest, landing an uppercut on the Commander, with its deafening roar. An effortless toss of his right-hand resulted in the severed head rolling into the boot trodden ground in front of his enemy.
When standing behind him on the outskirts of the forest, you would have been mistaken for thinking the six-foot two-inch figure (six-foot-six when he's angry figure) in front of you was the silhouette of a bear. Yet, this man, covered in heavy layers of brown wool and yak fur, with beard to match, held the title of ‘Germanic Barbarian Leader’. Around his abdomen and resting within a scabbard on his left side was an ornate sword. Unlike the mud-soaked uniform he was bound to, this sword was bejewelled with red stones and gold carvings.
His boots, wrapped in strands of leather, were pressed into branches and mud that lifted him another few feet into the treetops. Behind him were the grunts, chanting, and the breath of a hundred bloodthirsty soldiers, each brandishing a beard, axe, sword and a uniform, drenched in mud.
His name is Charlie ‘Chick’ Allan, and in a matter of hours, he would be found pacing around his clean, white Travel Lodge hotel room near Surrey, grasping black cow hide leather bagpipes instead of his enemy’s head. The grunts behind him wouldn’t be his soldiers, but rather, hotel guests that had been listening to him learn this instrument for the past month. Tomorrow, he would be back in the woods again, screaming his mighty chant for another take.
There had been four armies that stood on the battlegrounds of Bourne Wood in Surrey, where Gladiator had been rehearsing for the past three weeks. Yet, only two of those armies were visible on screen. The Roman Army stood wearing uniforms that were rich in maroon, as if blood-drenched from their enemies. Their strength and power displayed by their formation and structure. The Celts stood wielding axes and swords, chanting in mud-drenched uniforms. Camera crews stood hidden in tree lines, six of them, to capture every possible angle and to never miss a beat of the action.
The final army were that of the Make-up Artists, brandishing their weapons of silicon and soil, so that they could "dirt up the nails", place mud-like silicon on clothing, and dampen any shine on a soldier’s uniform.
Charlie didn’t know that he was going to have a role in the film, nor did he know that he would build an everlasting friendship with the film’s hero, Gladiator himself.
On the edge of Bourne Wood in Surrey, the Stunt Coordinator approached Charlie and asked him to follow him. Standing before Charlie was quite a short man compared to Charlie's towering figure. The man was wearing a dark navy velvet-like jumper and a woollen lilac coloured beanie, yet this man's voice held all the power. “I was introduced to Ridley Scott [the director]”, recalled Charlie.
Sir Ridley Scott paused for a moment; his eyes were the only things that were moving. Up and down, Sir Ridley Scott’s eyes gazed towards Charlie, judging every facet of his appearance. From the snow-covered soles of his feet to his long flowing hair and equally bushy beard. Sir Ridley Scott turned around and said to the Stunt Coordinator, “Could you have not found someone a little bit more hairy?”
Charlie started laughing.
Sir Ridley Scott, who had been holding an axe with detailed Celtic carvings on its face, looked back towards Charlie and said, “Right. This is what’s going to happen. You are going to have this axe and I will need you to shout.”
Sir Ridley Scott pointed towards where Russell Crowe would be standing in the distance with his Roman Army and said “Your adversary is over there. You are leading the Celts. And I will need you to shout over to the Romans. I will need about three or four lines.”
Charlie said, “Ok, is there a script? What do you want me to say?”
Sir Ridley Scott said, “Think of something appropriate”, and then he turned and started walking away. Charlie was intrigued, this was great news. Firstly, he didn’t realise that he was going to be in a DreamWorks Feature Film. Secondly, he wasn’t expecting a speaking role. Charlie’s mind started processing all the possibilities, “I could think of something nasty”, something a “bad guy” would shout. But Charlie was suddenly stopped in his tracks, as he heard Sir Ridley Scott shout over his shoulder, “In German, please.”
“Oh Shit”, Charlie muttered under his breath. Charlie was now trying to find someone that could speak German on set. He asked the prop department and crew with no luck. Asked fellow combat performers, to no avail. Finally, he approached the head of 'B' Camera unit, Klemens Becker, and the Second Camera Unit, who were to be filming the distance shot of Charlie, when he stood on the mound shouting the yet to be determined lines. Charlie asked, “Do any of you speak German?”, which resulted in a “Ja”, a resounding “Yes”. Charlie asked, “I want to say 'looking for the dirty dogs. They are all going to die'.”
The German Camera Unit scribbled down the phonetics of the phrase, and Charlie started to practice it out loud, which was soon accompanied by laughing.
“Does it sound that bad?”, asked Charlie.
“Your Scottish accent and how you say it sounds like old Germanic”, replied the Camera Unit, which left Charlie with a smile as he jotted off to rehearse with the prop axe.
Three weeks of rehearsal, and now the filming was going to commence. Charlie had his lines, and he held the axe in his left hand, and could shout the line, “Ihr seid verfluchte Hunde” confidently and with authority. But with an hour to go, these assistants approached Charlie and said, “Ridley wants you to use this” and handed him a towering and heavy wooden staff with a horse’s head on the end of it. Charlie replied, “What am I to do with this?”. The assistants then pulled out another prop, “Oh, and he wants you to use this too.” It was a severed head.
Due to the weight of the staff and its unique shape, Charlie had to keep the staff moving constantly so that the momentum, if he were to suddenly stop, wouldn’t affect his balance.
“I fluffed one of my intended lines, so I improvised in Norwegian”, recalls Charlie. He thought that the crew wouldn’t have noticed, but one of the assistants approached and asked what he had said. Charlie explained his lines, and they said, “We’ll probably dub it anyway.” To say that Charlie was disappointed would have been an understatement, which translates to his improvised line. Charlie had said, "Jeg er skikkelig forbanna", Norwegian for "I'm really pissed."
Months passed and the cast and crew were invited to the preview screening. Within a few minutes of the screening, an echoing voice shouted out, landing an uppercut on both the Roman Commander’s face and Charlie’s, with its sheer authority. “Holy shit, that’s me!”, thought Charlie, “They are using my voice, and the line I fluffed. I’m thirty feet tall.”
The first time Charlie watched the film alongside Russell Crowe was 18 years after its initial release, and what better place to view it than the Flavian Amphitheatre; the Roman Colosseum. Charlie was on tour with his band Saor Patrol in Milan and called Russell because he knew he was in Italy as well.
Russell asked, “Where are you? Can you get down here to Rome? I have a ticket for you.”
Charlie had to rearrange his music schedule, but said “Yes, Can I buy a ticket for my wife?”
Russell said, “Leave it to me.”
It was then, alongside his wife, and his great mate Russell, that they watched ‘Gladiator’ together. The colosseum on screen seamlessly extended up the historic walls and became a location of living history. Charlie recalls looking over at Russell during the projection, “It was a spiritual moment. I swear I saw a tear in his eye. It was the first time he’d watched Gladiator.”
It was as if Charlie Allan and Russell Crowe had been fighting for centuries. They had fought each other in 180AD in the Battle of Germania, and again in 1199AD in the Army of King Richard the Lionheart. However, whilst centuries had past, their location had not, for they were still at Bourne Wood in Surrey, yet this time they were fighting together as comrades.
During one of the takes at the facade of the castle, Sir Ridley Scott came over and said, "I could do with someone getting taken out here." He looked around and said, "A crossbow from above. Chick (Charlie), you'll do that." Without a moment’s hesitation, Charlie replied, "Ridley, man, Come on. You killed me off last time."
Sir Ridley Scott said, "Alright then" and slapped him in the stomach, then walked off.
The combat performers, with jaws dropped, said, "No way! You just knocked back Ridley Scott. SIR Ridley Scott."
Charlie recalls Russell Crowe's reaction, "Russell Crowe just looked at me and grinned."
Whilst Charlie and Russell had remained friends between Gladiator and Robin Hood, through handwritten letters and messages, they hadn't had the opportunity to visit one another. One of the first scenes to be filmed for Robin Hood took place on the beach of Freshwater West in South Wales, and included over 600 combat performers, multiple landing barges, and 150 horses.
A white horse stood out in the sea of men, its name was Rusty, and the man who stood out on its saddle, was that of Russell Crowe. Rusty the horse, became a 'life long friend' of Russell's, as they would chat on the Robin Hood set, and would later chat again in Les Misérables in 2012. On the beach, Charlie was half a mile away from the action, and recalls, "I saw a whole bunch of horses charge across the beach and clocked Russell right at the front." Charlie watched Russell stand up on his stirrups and begin to scan the soldiers in the distance. Russell's eyes squinted and then Russell said, "Ahh", having clocked Charlie's beard. Russell then charged full pelt towards Charlie, until he came to a halt. "I got this incredible flashback, and he got it", said Charlie.
Russell's arm reached out towards Charlie, and their hands clapped to each other's forearms. Russell said, "How's it going brother?"
Charlie recalled it feeling like a rush over their bodies, having connected after years apart.
Beneath a coffee-dusted tent and a hundred metres in front of the castle's face, stood two men, three cups and a pea. One wore chainmail, a dark brown hooded vest, and had just come off the battle torn field.
This soldier (Charlie) had been told by the man in front of him that, "This game is not about luck. It is about the science of memory", and so was betting some onions for a bit of coin. A single lute, a set of candles and the chatting of men, provided ambience.
The other man, wearing a brown suede cowl, gauntlets made from strands of maroon leather, an olive-green shirt, dark brown pants and boots, was planning to con Charlie. His name was Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe).
It was the classic pea/ball and cup game. One cup hides the ball and after a few movements, the opponent selects one of three cups to see if their watchful eye was accurate. Charlie recalls, "When we were Doing the rehearsal for it. Russell said, “Always pick the middle, because it won’t be there.”
The camera started rolling. Flourish. Flourish. Flourish. The cups moved around in varying positions. Russell said, Three choices: right, left or middle?"
Charlie on cue said, "Middle."
A confident Russell lifted up the middle cup. "The first time he did it, I said middle, and the bloody pea was under the cup. He was pissed off.”, said Charlie. The whole set erupted in laughter. Even Sir Ridley Scott couldn't hold it in.
Charlie and Russell were standing on the set between takes, spinning yarns; chewing the fat and having a craic. They had noticed that the tree Russell sliced with a blade in Gladiator had now grown a foot higher. "We looked for where Russell had sliced the head off an enemy in Gladiator. It was a foot higher."
Russell turned to Charlie and asked, "Have you contacted production for any of these props for Duncarron Medieval Village?" Charlie said, "They aren't going to take me seriously." Russell replied, "Leave it with me." As Russell had left, Charlie had looked around set and thought, those tents would work well, "I could do a few tents." A few hours later, Russell Crowe clocked Charlie and walked towards him.
Charlie said, "He had a kind of look on his face, as though he had been up to something. Like a small child, pleased with himself." Russell Crowe called out, "Come here, come here, I've got something to show you." Charlie said, "What have you done?" Russell said, "Come here. Unfortunately, I can't get you any of the tents", and as he pointed to the three-tonne battering ram, he continued, "See that, that's yours. I've organised it all." Charlie shouted, "Holy Shit, No way!!?" in excitement.
Charlie's fellow Combat International clan looked at the pair, inquisitively, "What's happening over there?" Charlie walked over to them and said, "You know how I was chatting to Russell about possible props and that?" The group replied, "Ah Yeah." Charlie said, "Unfortunately, we are not getting the tents." He then pointed behind the group, "But we are getting that."
They turned and came face to face with the mechanically-built and working Battering Ram.
The Battering Ram was named 'Rosie' after Charlie and a few of the group snuck away, from set, and escaped up north to Glasgow, so that they could be entertained at the Black Ice World Tour AC/DC Concert. During their performance, AC/DC sung a song called "Whole Lotta Rosie", and back on set they had a "Whole Lotta Battering Ram", so it seemed like a fitting name. Rosie now lives in the stunning Duncarron Medieval Village and Fort in Scotland.
Not everyone can sit down and learn from a book. Some people are visual learners or hands-on learners. Charlie has dedicated his life to breathing life into history so that children and adults of all ages have the ability to witness Scottish history alive in person. For this, Charlie established Duncarron Medieval Fort in Stirling, Scotland.
If you would like to learn more about Duncarron or Saor Patrol, feel free to click the link below to see their websites: Duncarron Medieval Fort Saor Patrol
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